Macbeth–Act I

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I’ve read Macbeth before, when I was a Junior in High School. This is what I remember:

  1. “Out, out, damn spot” and a lot of guilt.
  2. Someone was born a really crazy way, and it fulfills a prophecy.
  3. There are witches and they speak in rhyme.

Now that I’ve made one of many obligatory lists, let’s begin.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11), is delivered right before Macbeth comments, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”(I.iii.38). When words repeat themselves (post.script. the word “selfsame” is used a bagillion times as well), I get into my little obsessive dictionary mode. Fair: free from dishonesty-ample-promising-favorable. Foul: offensive to the senses (how shall the witches appear? thunder, lightning, rain–that which is sensible)-filthy-unfairly-vilely. That which is promising and favorable–Macbeth’s kingship–is about to be sought by vile, dishonest means. Two things strike me about Macbeth that makes this prophecy–deriving from evil sources–work upon his mind in such a way.

Numero uno: His disposition to chance and fortune. We learn a little about his character in the second scene. “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves the name),/Disdaining Fortune…”(I.ii.16-17). Perhaps it is minor, but here we see–through the account of another–that there is a characteristic in Macbeth that draws him to rise above fortune. This is contradicted (all I can see in this play are contradictions) in his own later statement, “If Chance will have me King, why,/Chance may crown me” (I.iii.144). Which is later contradicted by…

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Numero dose: Macbeth’s lovely wife.

From unnatural news derives the desire for the unnatural. Lady Macbeth, upon learning the prophecy of the old witches, desires that nature itself be overrode for the ambitious desires. I mean, her whole speech about killing a child that she’s nursing is one of the most disgustingly -foul- things I’ve read in a Shakespeare play thus far.

So, disruption of nature, prophecy, truth from evil sources, ambition…what brilliant themes we have at the outset!

Until tomorrow.

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Julius Caesar–Act I

Sadly, today is another day that I must make my comments brief. That whole needing to work to eat thing.

Opening notes on the title–The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Now, we already know he’s going to die, everyone knows the story of the “Ides of March.” Tragedies involve a man’s fall…Now, Julius died, but…did he fall? Did he fail? The question to keep in mind in Shakespeare’s retelling is: Who’s tragedy is it, really?

And let’s not forget the comment, “for always I am Caesar” (I.ii.211), stated by the man himself. Always? Has a kind of eternal ring to it.

Julius Caesar Tour 2005

We open with the question of identity. The common folk are acting as if on holiday, not wearing the tools which mark which trade they bear. They all seem the same. No definition of trade. And they are gathering for the sake of seeing Caesar. Hmm. All the common men become similar for the sake of seeing their soon-to-be-king.

This ties into the later comments made by Cassius–Caesar is no god, but a man prone to the same sicknesses and trials of men. He is to be elected king, though he is no better than the men of the republic. The men of Rome have ceased to be true Romans, they are willing to let themselves be ruled by an ambitious tyrant. A man who has made himself a god. Cassius makes a very clear point to rebuke fate, because all men are in charge of their own fate. Cassius, the voice of equality. The voice of choice.

That’s most of what I have time for (and most of what I have to say regarding my opening remarks). Until tomorrow, let’s watch the tragedy unfold.

Measure for Measure–Acts III & IV

My apologies for yesterday. I had a terrible migraine for half the day.

I have a few odd feelings toward the Duke. I think he signifies something very wonderful in earthly terms–he is the leader of his people, and in order to make things turn out right, he humbles himself as a servant to do the works for the commonweal–while on the other hand, I have a problem with his masquerade as a priest–the ones to be executed, he offers council, but isn’t it more proper for the sake of their souls that they be offered their last confession? Which is an office he can’t perform. This probably is minor, but I think this play deals heavily with souls.

That said, the Duke comes up with the plan that is hoped to spare Claudio’s life and Isabella’s soul, but I’m again at a loss to justify the means of this disguise. Not that it really works, it requires another disguise to save Claudio’s life, since Angelo is not keen on keeping his word with Isabella. I saw that coming, actually–for if he were to have last minute spared Claudio, than his reputation for being the man of justice would be “ruined.”

(I have to make this entry short today, so my last point will be brief.)

What the Duke’s deception does allow is the revelation that Angelo is guilty of the crime he condemns to death and Claudio’s life as something miraculous.

Hopefully I will have more time tomorrow, but as for now, I must get to work, and I have a million other things to finish today.

Measure for Measure–Act II

Anything I said defending Angelo in my last post, I take back right now. I am livid. I’ve never been so inflamed.

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Before I go raging about Angelo, I want to make a point about Elbow. I was reminded of Dogberry, in the way he can’t seem to understand the words that he uses, and I am beginning to see a reason for it. There are those in Shakespeare plays that are very good talkers, but that we never should trust–Richard III, Don John, Edmund, to name a few. “Beware of slick talkers,” my professor in Rome used to say. And I think this way of talking is revealing also in the third scene of this play, when Isabella begins by speaking “coldly.” I think it is her humility that keeps her from speaking properly in the beginning. I am going to try to focus on speaking more throughout the rest of my readings, regardless if I am right or wrong about this point.

One more point before my rage overtakes me. Escalus’ little rhyming couplet at the end of scene one. “Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so;/Pardon is still the nurse of second woe” (II.i.278-279). This is the beginning of a point I want to make about the differences between Isabella and Angelo, the point being that there is a distinction here between earthly understanding of mercy and a heavenly understanding of mercy. What I mean to say, is that Escalus’ statement here is an understanding of mercy that rests upon justice, while Isabella (and the Duke, when he speaks with Juliet) has an understanding of mercy that rests upon love.

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Isabella hits Antonio hard when she states,

                                               Go to your bosom,

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know

That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess

A natural guiltiness, such as his,

Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue

Against my brother’s life.

She’s arguing from an understanding of mercy that a Pharisee can understand (“Let he among you without sin cast the first stone” sound familiar to anyone?). She speaks in earthly terms.

Is her virtue her downfall? Angelo claims her virtue is what drags him into the sin of wanting to love her (and not a proper love by any means). He seems to take her literally–if he sins as Claudio, he will show mercy to Claudio. Arghskjdafljdjknasdkfhadsfj.

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I’m actually not going to turn this into a big rage against Angelo. Instead, I won’t allow myself to dwell on his horribleness, but on Isabella’s virtue. She illustrates by her actions a concept that tends to be the subject of religious debate–can one commit a sin in order that good may be accomplished? The answer, if we follow Isabella, is no (and, if we read our catechism, that is the correct answer). This brings me back to the difference between the heavenly and earthly understanding of justice and mercy. Angelo’s “virtues” and notions are merely earthly, and the request of Isabella’s body in exchange for the life of her brother is a fair earthly trade. Mercy based on proportional justice. No good can come from the forfeit of ones soul, it isn’t a sacrifice to damn oneself to Hell so that one may be saved. It’s an act against Faith. Oh, and Chastity.

Until tomorrow.

Measure for Measure–Act I

Measure

Nuns!

The play begins with a temporary transfer of authority to Antonio, who, from his humble refusal at first, seems like a good dude. The first scene deals with Antonio’s good character, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. His harsh enforcement of the law stems from his adherence to justice. That’s not bad in and of itself. Now, the Duke reveals in scene three that he has failed to properly enforce the laws of his city, and to allow infractions against the law is not merely to allow evil, but to encourage it. “Sith ’twas my fault to give the people scope,/’Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them/For what I bid them do: for we bid this be done,/When evil deeds have their permissive pass,/And not the punishment” (I.iii.35-39).

I find it interesting that the law which we see enforced–Juliet being with-child out of wedlock with Claudio–is the sin that earlier is joked about with Mistress Overdone. Claudio’s account of liberty reveals the nature of sin. “Our natures do pursue,/Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,/A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die” (I.ii.128-130). There’s a tension here, methinks, between the laws of the commonweal and the laws of God. But there’s a distinct difference; the laws of the commonweal are based upon justice, “Measure for Measure” to steal the plays name, while the laws of God rest upon the justice of God, based upon love which is revealed in mercy.

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With that said, I’m curious if this tension of laws might be revealed also in the opening of scene four–the ‘lack of strictness’ in the Order of Saint Clare. The Poor Clare’s are a Franciscan order, which poses itself against the decadence of the age–and if we look at what is going on in the city of the play, there is quite a bit of decadence. Isabella points out her understanding of the order is much more strict than the little nun reveals to her. An order against decadence is not strict, the duke of the city is not strict in using authority–these smell like they are of similar stuff, so to speak–perhaps these similarities reveal more than might appear.

Post. Script. Isabella means God’s promise or devoted to God. I’m assuming her name will reveal itself to mean both by the time this play is over.

Until tomorrow!

King John–Acts III & IV

My apologies, I have been rigorously working on getting my life together and make myself a career in something a little more academic than bar-tending. Prayers, if you can!

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So, Act III satisfied my “the war ended to quickly” proposition, thanks to the entrance of a bishop. Rome visits, excommunicates, and causes a huge complication of which fundamental religious honoring to take–the alliance between England and France that has at it’s foundation the Church’s Sacrament of marriage VERSUS the authority figure from the Vatican directly telling King Phillip that he’ll be excommunicated with King John. Poor Blanch.

So, we have these two poles that the audience gets to swing between: France and England. France’s leader concerns himself primarily with matters of the soul above the matters of state, both in his breaking of the alliance and with Louis’ trust in the bishop’s prophecy that England will fall. Ol’ John is excommunicated for putting his own matters of state above the Church and he has no concern for his soul, so long as he has looked out for his body and reputation (the assigning of Arthur’s assassination).

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Act IV reads like a tragedy–the too late realization that killing an innocent kid might be a mistake. King John, on the cusp of losing his allies, states, “They burn in indignation. I repent:/There is no sure foundation set on blood;/No certain life achiev’d by others’ death (IV.ii.105-107). Arthur’s alive and let go! Then he’s actually dead. And no one saw him fall. So, obviously, King John was up to mischief, setting himself on a foundation of blood that he only too late realized was not in his best interests.

Oh, and the whole thing is taking place during late, very close to the feast day of the Ascension. I’m wondering if Blanch’s lamenting her wedding feast turning into a blood bath has more to it than meets the eye….

Richard III–Act V

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And we end with a body count of fifteen, including Richard himself.

In the opening, we have a frame of reference to the time in which the action takes place. Buckingham is going to be executed on All Soul’s Day. And we see all of the souls that Richard has taken.

And now, for a brief comparison between Richard and Richmond:

  1. Richard goes to bed with a bowl of wine (very Roman), while Richmond kneels down in prayer before retiring. The old Rome vs. the new. Oh, not to mention that the East is capitalized when Stanley refers to it…Nothing cool comes from East to West in history…oh…wait…
  2. Richard mentions saints (Paul, the saint of conversion–right after his conscience is eaten away by the “dream” of the ghosts–and George, the saint of battle) but never actually prays to them, while Richmond seems in constant prayer to God and the saints.
  3. Their speeches contain what they are fighting for–Richard appeals to material needs, such as their land and wives, while Richmond makes the appeal to justice, God, and England herself. Richmond’s speech gets you going! Richard, far from the plays opening speech, is just…flat.

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“My kingdom for a horse!” (V.iv.7). Richard dies on the field of battle by the hand of Richmond. But, wait, I thought historically he lost the battle and was imprisoned in the tower. What is Shakespeare saying by making him die during the context of the battle? Perhaps that the battle is where his life, as he made it, truly ended there? Or that we needed to see justice served?

The play ends in a prayer, that England will never again be soaked in so much blood. Historically, that doesn’t exactly happen…and Shakespeare is writing during such a time where things are rather…bloody. Points to you if you guess who’s blood is being shed and under who’s reign it begins. Richmond’s final speech is also to note the reconciliation between houses. Very very cool, and extremely satisfying after watching such a body count amass during the play.

I’ll do a final wrap-up of general themes through the play for Sunday. Until then, “Now civil wounds are stopp’d; peace lives again” (V.v.40).